What I’ve Been Reading

Confessions of an Advertising Manby David Ogilvy

Who would’ve guessed a dead Scotsman can tell you everything you need to know about advertising and marketing? Founder, amazing writer, bon vivant – this book is a must-read.

(Yes, that’s an affiliate link. Don’t sue me.)

Economics of Information Technology by Hal Varian

A treatise was written by Hal Varian on the economics of most internet business models back when he was at my alma mater, UC Berkeley. Highly recommended. (Hal Varian went on to be chief economist at Google.)

I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi

IWTYtBR is the first personal finance book I’ve ever read that’s really spoken to me. Ramit’s funny and is all about using technology and hassling your bank to save money. My favorite quotes include “…Credit card companies, whom you should treat just slightly better than you would an armed militia coming after your younger sister.”

Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle by Tom Venuto

A no-nonsense plan that has been proven and tested by more than 300,000 people in 154 countries. Whether you want to shed 10 pounds or 100, whether you want to build muscle or just look more toned, this book is the original “bible of fitness” that shows you benefits of using a spin bike, how to burn fat by using spinning, and natural ways to burn fat.

Additionally, Ramit founded PBWiki and was a Seth Godin intern, so he’s a certified G in my book.…

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Why Im Joining BuzzStream

I’m joining BuzzStream – a great marketing SaaS startup in Austin, Texas – as their first full-time marketer. I will be moving to Austin to join the team there. I am very excited – it’s a tremendous opportunity and I feel honored that their team has let someone like me manage their marketing.

BuzzStream enables marketers to manage their link development (for SEO) and PR influencer engagement in a highly systematic, measurable, and scalable way. It’s sort of like Salesforce.com for SEO PR, but it has a lot more functionality for marketers to be even more efficient and effective in their outreach.

(If this sounds like something you can use, please go over to BuzzStream.com right now and sign up for the free trial. If there’s anything you really like or think we can do better, please don’t hesisitate to drop me an email at matt at matt gratt dot com – customer feedback is incredibly important to us.)

Because BuzzStream helps marketers manage their SEO PR, it would be inappropriate for me to compete with our customers by providing SEO consulting services or building SEO-focused affiliate sites. Accordingly, I am exiting the SEO consulting market and will no longer be involved in Subscription Media Network, my affiliate site holding company. I will no longer be providing these services, but I am happy to refer you to a qualified consultant (who, as almost all top-shelf search marketers do, uses BuzzStream).

So, Why BuzzStream?

In my last post, I detailed how to evaluate a marketing opportunity at a startup.Let me explain how BuzzStream matches up to these criteria.

The Market: Every Company Will Need a BuzzStream Instance

There are a few interesting trends going on in the world of marketing and PR:
– PR social marketing are becoming more important marketing channels as buyers grow to distrust advertising and increasingly rely on peers, reviews, and recommendations.
– Publications audiences are becoming more and more fragmented, and the number of influencers in almost all markets is constantly increasing.
– It’s becoming harder and harder to get coverage and links as markets become more competitive.

For example, in his Supermac war stories, Steve Blank identified his PR goal as producing “5 positive product reviews per quarter.”

Now Steve Blank is (in my humble opinion) one of the best technology marketers of all time. But 5 product reviews per quarter? For a prosumer/consumer tech product?

If you identified this as a goal today, you’d be laughed out of the building. Hundreds (if not thousands) of publications now cover Mac accessories, not to mention the publications that cover graphic design applications, hardware, and the other market segments you’d need to reach today.

This is just one example of the explosion of media and fragmentation of attention. This same big bang like explosion has happened in almost all sectors – from enterprise software to health and fitness – and marketers need dramatically better tools to manage it all.

This is a great market, and will only become a better one as time goes on. And in my (very biased) opinion, BuzzStream will become one of the core set of cloud apps – along with CRM, marketing automation, and web analytics tools that all companies use to manage their marketing.

The Team

BuzzStream’s team is excellent – from their chairman and advisory board to the executive management, to the staff, BuzzStream’s team are some of the smartest, most driven people I’ve met in a long time.

They’re also fine people and great to hang out with. And most importantly, they’re relentlessly focused on their customers’ success.

The Customers

BuzzStream customers include some of the most sophisticated marketers in the world. (And I’m not just saying that because I was a customer.) From enterprise-level search marketers like HomeAway to top web marketing agencies like Distilled and SEOGadget to great startups like RunKeeper and Apptopia, BuzzStream helps great companies grow.

Working with sophisticated marketers like the teams at these companies is both a joy and an honor, and I look forward to it.…

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How to Evaluate a Startup Marketing Role

When you join a startup as a marketer, you have to be careful. Really careful.

Some non-marketing founders view marketing as a magical potion that can heal a lack of a great product, a great market, and a great team. They think getting some digital ink in TechCrunch/search engine rankings/email marketing/etc will cause the world to beat a path to their door. (Fortunately the popularity of Lean Startupand Customer Development has made excellent progress in killing this belief, but it’s still present.)

This is simply not true – press doesn’t help a startup that’s not ready for prime time. And all the demand generation/demand harvesting/branding/thought leadership/channel optimization/etc. in the world can’t help a startup that hasn’t achieved product-market fit. Additionally, startups with limited markets or markets facing impending obsolescence all spell a limited, yelling-filled tenure for their marketers.

When you look at startup marketing roles, you should ask yourself some questions:

Is this a great market? Will trends in the market drive increased adoption of the product?

As Marc Andreesen says:

In honor of Andy Rachleff, formerly of Benchmark Capital, who crystallized this formulation for me, let me present Rachleffs Law of Startup Success:
The #1 company-killer is lack of market.
Andy puts it this way:
• When a great team meets a lousy market, market wins.
• When a lousy team meets a great market, market wins.
• When a great team meets a great market, something special happens.
You can obviously screw up a great market and that has been done, and not infrequently but assuming the team is baseline competent and the product is fundamentally acceptable, a great market will tend to equal success and a poor market will tend to equal failure. Market matters most.

Sequoias Don Valentine offers a similar sentiment:

I like opportunities that are addressing markets so big that even the management team cant get in its way.

The market always wins. At some level, the market is like the ocean it was there before you, it will be there after you, and it will grind anything in its way into dust. But, like the ocean, if you find a great wave and work with it, rather than against it, you can have a great ride.

Does the company have a great market? How big is it? Will trends drive an increased need for the product in the future? Or will other options emerge that circumvent the companys offering entirely?

Is the team great – both for the market, and for you? Do you think they can conquer the market? Do you want to spend an afternoon with them?

Conventional wisdom suggests that the team is the most important factor. I continue to think the team is really, really important, but simply can’t overcome a bad market. (And after all, some of the largest startups ever like Google, Microsoft, and Facebook were started by college students in huge markets major players ignored.)

With market as the first criteria, evaluate the team. Can they succeed in the market? Do they have significant blind spots, or are they focused on customers? Do they have the skills to pay the bills? Remember, startups are hard. As Paul Graham says, you want people who youd describe as animals.

Additionally, you’ll be spending a great deal of time with your team, so it works best if you like the other folks on the team, at both a personal and a professional level.

Is the product great (yet)? Do customers like it? Does the product roadmap make sense?

People really don’t like it when you reposition their companies without their permission. And if the company hasn’t achieved product-market fit, they need customer development, not marketing. If you’re joining a company in a marketing role, absolutely make sure there are customers, they pay consistently, they’re using the product, and they like it.

Perhaps more importantly, see what the customers have to say about it. Do some Twitter searches (Topsy is great for this) and some Google searches, especially for things like “[product name] problems” and “[product name] sucks”. If you find too many negative results, that may speak to deeper problems.

Do you like the customers? Do you like the market?

You cant be a great marketer serving customers you hate. If you dont like technically unsophisticated people, dont sell software to school teachers. If you think IT people are weird, dont market systems management software.

The more you like the product and like the customers, the better youll do. If you could happily drop down into a customers shoes for a week or two, youll be a much better marketer.

Is the startup in a place you want to live? Is the work-life balance appealing?

Work/life balance pick a place where you can walk or bike or bus to work and relax, get work done, and destress. Do not sign up for a freeway commute or you will spend your life tired and pissed off and sleepwalking through your day.
You are a person live and work in a place you like, especially if your friends, family, and hobbies are nearby.

– Michael Wolfe, Founder, KANA, Vontu, I/PRO, Pipewise
Marketing, for all its appearance of sitting at a whiteboard, spreadsheet, or Word doc, is hard mental work that requires a mix of creative, persuasive, and analytic skills. It’s hard to deliver this if you sleep under your desk and work 100+ hours a week consistently.
And after all, you are a person, and you deserve to be happy.

Will You Learn Something New?

If you arent learning a new channel, a new skill, or get to serve in a different role than you have before, its not a great opportunity. The world of marketing is changing too fast to specialize in only one channel.
As they say, one trick ponies rapidly become glue.…

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9 Growth Hackers You Should Follow on Twitter

The Growth Hacker meme has finally taken off.

After a couple years of describing myself as a growth hacker and being met with blank stares, things are changing. Im happy that people may now understand that a growth hacker is a person who can drive customer/user/MRR growth through a sophisticated combination of marketing, technical, and analytical skills. Basically, a growth hacker is a rain maker for the modern web company.

But where can a journeyman growth hacker like me look for advice? Fortunately, there are many prominent growth hackers that tweet, blog, answer questions on Quora, and otherwise share their wisdom. Here are some of my favorite growth hackers to follow on Twitter. (A number of them are CEOs and CTOs that gives you some idea about how valuable this skillset is to the modern web enterprise.)

Sean Ellis CEO CatchFree

Sean is perhaps the original growth hacker he coined the term. He also was the original VP marketing at some companies you might be familiar with LogMeIn and Uproar and helped accelerate growth at WordPress.com, Xobni, DropBox, and Eventbrite. (I suspect theres some Im missing.)
Now hes the CEO of CatchFree an amazing resource for finding free apps. He also writes the (aptly named) Startup Marketing blog.
Must-Read Posts:
Optimization Mistakes that Kill Startups
My Favorite Online Marketing Tactic Doesnt Work
To Pay Or Not To Pay To Acquire Users?

Noah Kagan Chief Sumo (CEO) AppSumo

Noah Kagan was the growth hacker behind Mint.coms initial growth. He was also an early product manager at Facebook, pushing out many of the features that everyone was incredibly upset about and soon recognized as better, like the newsfeed. (As a Facebook user since Fall 2004, I remember the incredible acrimony around the newsfeed, before it was recognized as superior.) He is now the CEO and Chief Sumo of AppSumo, a company that helps developers get distribution and entrepreneurs up their game. (And like me, Noah went to UC Berkeley.)
Must Read Posts:
Speech at UC Berkeley
How Mint Beat Wesabe
Quant-Based Marketing for Startups

Justin Briggs Inbound Marketing Leader Big Fish Games

Justin Briggs is the inbound marketing leader at Big Fish Games. Hes a gifted growth hacker, and has done everything from develop new techniques for visualizing link graphs site traffic to get coverage in publications like Wired and MSN. Before Big Fish, he was a prominent consultant at Distilled.
Key Posts:
Business Metrics for Link Reporting
Building the Implicit Social Graph
How to Build Links and Drive Traffic with Infographics

Dan Martell CEO Clarity

Dan Martell founded Flowtown (acquired by DemandForce), Spheric Technologies, and now Clarity. Hes also an angel investor and a 500 Startupsmentor.
Key Posts:
Hustlin for Conversions
Content Marketing for Startups
Why Building Great Admin Dashboards Can Lead to Amazing Products

Andy Johns Product Manager, User Growth Quora

Andy Johns is the Product Manager for User Growth at Quora. From Quoras third-party traffic data, it seems like hes doing a good job:
Before Quora, he worked on user growth at Facebook and Twitter. The scoreboard suggests he did a decent job.
Key Posts:
How Does Quora Manage to Get Such Good Google Search Placement for Its Questions?
What Are Some Top Strategies for Conversion Optimization?
Does Quora Research Its Users Behavior?
How Does Andy Johns Bring Traffic to Websites?

Dharmesh Shah CTO/Co-founder HubSpot

Dharmesh Shah is the founder and CTO of Hubspot, a large inbound marketing software company. He also wrote the Get Found Using Inbound Marketing book, and the author of OnStartups.com.
Key Posts:
Building a Startup Marketing Plan Tips in 3 Words
Startup Lessons from 17 Hard-Hitting Quotes in Moneyball
Insider Tips from HubSpots Launch of Marketing Grader

Mat Clayton CTO Mixcloud

Mat Clayton is one of the worlds experts on driving user growth through open graph actions. His startup, Mixcloud, has seen 20% user growth month over month from clever Facebook Twitter integrations.
Key Presentations:
The Next Level of Social Integration
Social Design

Danielle Morrill Director of Marketing Twilio

Danielle is behind Twilios massive adoption and near universal marketing presence. She also mentors for 500 Startups, and shares wisdom about many growth topics, especially business development and successful event marketing. (There is a pervasive myth that PR BD arent growth hacking. Growth hackers dont exclude any tool from their arsenal.)

Key Posts:
Startup Marketing 2nd Class Citizen, 2nd Rate Results
How to Hustle SXSW for Fun Profit
Close the Loop on Your SXSW Campaign Leads in 5 Steps

Neil Patel VP Marketing KISSMetrics

Neil Patel is currently the VP Marketing and cofounder of KISSMetrics, the leading customer analytics provider. (Customer analytics differs from web analytics because it integrates cohort data, CLTV, and other business metrics, rather than reporting on pageviews.) Neil also co-founded CrazyEgg ACS (a high-performance SEO digital marketing consultancy). He is also an angel investor, and frequently speaks at conferences.
Key Posts:
10 Lessons Seth Godin Can Teach You About Blogging
7 Business Mistakes That Nearly Broke Me Literally
Design is Marketing
Are You a Hustler?

The Growth Hacker Twitter List

Ive thrown all of these Twitter accounts into a Twitter list you can follow it here. Ill continue to maintain this list, and hopefully it will become one of the best sources of information on up-to-the-minute growth hacking strategy.

Follow the Growth Hacker Twitter List here.

Im sure Ive left some awesome people out there are a number of great growth hackers at startups like Zynga, BigDoor, Cheezburger Networks, and many others. Who are your favorite growth hackers on Twitter? (Please leave a comment and I will add them to the Twitter list.)…

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Using Quora for Marketing and the Inevitable Downfall of Quora

I’ve been playing with Quora a great deal – you can find my account here.

Some Commons Misconceptions About Quora

Misconception: Quora will be the next big thing

I’m sorry, I think Quora is great, but it can’t scale. It will become overrun with spam, and the same foolish “social media expert/husband/father/make money online” types that seem to outnumber smart people on Twitter. (Hint: if someone uses the phrase ‘Make Money Online’, they’re about to try to sell you something or sign you up for an affiliate network.)

I’ve been on Quora for a while now, since July. I’ve seen it go from the Silicon Valley elite (and the little people like me) to just about everyone who’s interested in technology. It becomes more and more like Yahoo! Answers every day. And I don’t see how that trend can be reversed.

For example, the first time I asked a question about PPC resources, Rand Fishkin answered. And a strong, nuanced answer it was.

Now, I see SEO questions that include answers like “Make sure you install the All-in-One SEO Pack and geotag your blog.” (I’m not sure what Geotagging your blog is – I think he means use a geographic KML sitemap.)

(That being said, the people running Quora are smarter than me, so we’ll see what happens.)

Quora isn’t important for SEO.

Quora, while giving no follow links, has white-hot SEO and anonymous questions. It’s going to be a reputation management problem – you’ll soon find clients asking you to move Quora answers off the front page.

Quora isn’t good for marketing.

The two strongest use cases I’ve found for Quora are:
– Building your professional reputation if you sell professional services (it’s just like LinkedIn answers in that regard)
– Conducting market research and understanding the views and pain points of professionals you’re not intimately familiar with.…

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Just a Venn Diagram and a Cool Link

I haven’t had time to write a substantive post this week, so I thought I’d just speed link to a couple of cool things.

Cool Diagram
Instead, I give you this cool Venn diagram:

(Diagram courtesy the BlueGlass Blog.)

Cool Link

I found this really cool online book that makes both Haskell and natural language processing (a topic near and dear to the heart of any real search or social marketer) intelligible to mere mortals. I’m working through it – I’ll let you know what I find.…

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7 Great WordPress PlugIns

WordPress is one of the most powerful tool in the internet entrepreneur’s arsenal. Between the free and open source nature of the software and the massive library of excellent themes available, if you need a great website fast, I ubiquitously recommend WordPress.

One of the best things about WordPress is the amazing plug-in development community. But with over 11,000 plug-ins, which ones should you use? Neil wrote a great post over on Quicksprout about some plug-ins he likes – I thought I’d add a few more of my favorites.

Sexy Bookmarks

If you look at the bottom of this post, you’ll see some cool AJAX bookmarks that pop up when you scroll over them. This is the Sexy Bookmarks plug-in. While it’s probably not as effective as generating re-tweets and facebook shares as Sharebar, I get a lot of my traffic from niche communities like HackerNews, so I want to encourage sharing and upvoting on those sites. (I think those sites are more effective at building links because it gets your content in front of the ‘linkerati’ at a higher rate than tools like facebook and twitter.)

Contact Form 7

A website is a way to broadcast your message – shouldn’t they be able to communicate with you? One way you can do this is through a contact form. (You may say, “well, they’ll just email me,” but I’ve seen the difference in contacts you get between email and a contact form, and it’s huge.) While there’s lots of ways to make contact forms in WordPress, Contact Form 7 is the most fully featured. And you can also include Akismet-based and CAPTCHA-driven spam protection, for when you start having spam issues.

After the Deadline

Everyone needs an editor. Unfortunately, good editors are hard to come by. If you’re like me, most of your friends and family in the immediate vicinity have no idea what you’re talking about in your articles, so finding a qualified editor on short notice can be tough.

Fortunately, software has once again come to my rescue. After the Deadline is a product from Automattic which serves as a beefed up spelling and grammar checker for writers. While it’s not as good as a talented human editor, it identifies passive voice, repeated words, grammatical errors, and overly complex expressions – great for light editing of blog posts before publishing them. Highly recommended.

Dynamic Content Gallery

I don’t use Dynamic Content Gallery on this blog, but if you’re doing something where every post has an image (as I do on some of my affiliate sites), DCG makes your site look incredibly professional. It creates a beautiful, highly customizable jQuery slideshow of your post images on your front page, like here. It’s a lovely effect.

WPTouch Theme

In the last two months, I’ve gotten more than 250 unique visitors on mobile devices – predominantly iPhones. They deserve an excellent experience tooo, so I installed WP Touch iPhone Theme, which shows iPhone users a beautiful version of the site, customized to look like a native iPhone app.

I read lots of blog posts on my iPhone – generally via a click-thru from Twitter – so I think plug-ins like this are important, and will become more important in the coming years as mobile browsing increases.

FD Feedburner

I wanted to put Feedburner on this list, but it’s not really a plug-in, so I’ll go with this one. FD Feedburner redirects all of your blog’s various feeds through Feedburner. That way, they subscribe to your Feedburner feed instead of your regular feed.

If you don’t use Feedburner, you really should. Feedburner lets you measure your RSS feed subscribers, and additionally, makes it possible to subscribe from the link to your feed (as opposed to displaying XML text to confused users.) Perhaps even more conveniently, Feedburner enables people to email subscribe to your blog.

Subscribe Remind

Subscribe-Remind adds a call to action and a link to your RSS feed at the end of each of your posts.. This ensures people who enjoyed your post become subscribers, so they can continue to enjoy your writing in the future.

Thanks for reading! Please share some of your favorite WordPress plug-ins in the comments – I really want to learn about some cool new ones!…

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5 Ways to Build Links Without Hoaxes, Whiteboards, or Other Tomfoolery

The internet was all in a tizzy this week after Jenny Whiteboard was briefly thought to be incredibly awesome but ultimately found to be incredibly fake. (Go check it out. It’s funny.)

If we really analyze it, we see many signs of a hoax:

It is posted to theChive (a site that seems to exclusively feature girls in bikinis) and not a personal social media site like a blog, Twitter, or Tumblr. (A tweet photo stream would’ve been much more believable, if much more difficult to distribute.)

It seems unlikely that a woman who was angry about being objectified at work would post things to a site where the most popular articles seem to be “hot girls of facebook” and “star wars motivational posters.”

33 Photos? Costume/hair/makeup changes? Additionally, the photos seem to be taken inside a model home. A staff of at least 2 off-camera helpers? Who has a production team to help them quit their job? Maybe Jenny got the Bluth family to help her?

The whiteboard is perfectly clean in each shot – there’s no trace of the previous letters. Have you ever owned a whiteboard? Do you know how hard it is to get one that clean?

And this ignores issues with the plot, why would anyone do this, the lack of contact information for potential employers, etc.

However, this was an awesome exercise in linkbait for theChive – they received a huge amount links and re-blogs initially, but even more upon being outed as a fake. According to my trusty SEOBook Toolbar Plug-in, this piece has received more than 7,000 Diggs, more than 2,800 comments, and hundreds of inbound links. Truly a piece of linkbait at its finest.

But what if you have a serious B2B website? How can you create linkbait content that appeals to both your prospects and the ‘linkerati’?

Well, my friends, there’s a lot you can do. Today, I’ll show you 5 ways you can create link-attracting content, without resorting to hoaxes, actresses, and freakishly clean whiteboards.

(In case you’re not sure why you’d want links to your site, it helps both people and search engines find you and your great content. See Aaron Wall’s SEOBook for more information. )

#1 – Infographics

People on the internet love great visuals, and they love to link to them. Infographics are visual representations of data – like this. An infographic of your industry data will draw lots of links, and you’ll probably find it repeated and attributed to you in presentations and keynotes throughout your industry. If you have any unique insights that you can draw from the data created by your service, these make even better infographics. For examples, take a look at the AdMob metrics reports. An infographic of this report would be a link magnet – but because AdMob was acquired by Google, avoiding anti-trust prosecution has become more important than building links.

Infographic about Lame Infographics

As this hilarious infographic (from Phil Gyford) shows, infographics are just passing their peak of effectiveness. Even spammers have caught on – you’re starting to see linkbait infographics that have nothing to do with the site they’re on.

To really kick it up a notch, you can use HTML5 and CSS3 (or Silverlight or your other favorite rich internet technology), to create interactive infographics, which will impress just about everybody. (This idea comes from the awesome Neil Patel, whose interview I will post later this week.)

#2 – Parody Videos

Twitter’s recruiting team used this tactic perfectly with their parody of the opening sequence of Rushmore. Rushmore is one of my favorite movies, so I was blown away by this one. It makes me want to learn Scala simply so I can be part of the ‘Finer Things Club.’

But you can do more than recruiting with these. What if you’re a serious company that makes, say, ERP software? Parody videos can also work for you – see this winner from NetSuite.

#3 – Tools

If you can create tools for people to use, they will link to them. See for instance, the SEOBook Keyword Tool, the SEOMoz Linkscape Tool, and the Hubspot Grader Tools. Even the lawyers have gotten into this – eminent Silicon Valley law firm Wilson Sonsini has created their own automatic term sheet generator.

While it helps if the tool is related to your domain area, it isn’t strictly necessary – Patio11 used A/Bingo (an open-source A/B testing library for Ruby on Rails) to build links for his Bingo Card Creator software. Patrick sells his Bingo Card Creator to teachers, but teachers do not typically create lots of high-value links. To gain search engine rank, he open-sourced the toolset he created to leverage the link-rich FOSS community.

But what if you don’t have any tools? Or you work in a space that doesn’t lend itself to tools? For starters, you should consider putting any ROI calculators you have into Javascript and putting them online. Another option is creating a custom search engine of all the influencer and analyst blogs in your space. With Google Custom Search, you can create a custom search engine that only indexes selected sites. (I hope Bing rolls out some similar functionality so there’s some competition.) You should pitch your search engine to all the bloggers featured in it, who will hopefully link to it, creating a virtuous cycle of links and traffic.

#4 – Short Interviews with Multiple People

Another quick and easy tactic for creating great SEO content is conducting very short interviews (one or two questions) via email with a variety of important people in the space. (Both the Influencer Project and I use this tactic.) Many of them will link to it or tweet it, and if you include two or three thought leaders (and maybe one from your own company’s executives), you can create a nice piece without too much work. I recommend optimizing your question around a middle tail keyword that you can win with two or three good links (if SEO is your main reason for creating this content.)

Expert Hint: If you need 10 responses, you should send 20-40 emails. Alternatively, Help a Reporter Out can be very effective. PR people on HARO will put their content in whatever format you ask for, as long as you mention the company they’re pushing.

#5 – Quizzes and Checklists

Everything that works for Cosmo Magazine will almost always work on the internet. (Change ‘Please Your Man’ to ‘iPhone Apps’ and you’ll be on the front page of Digg in no time.) Next time you’re in line at the grocery store, put that time to good use getting new ideas for great content. (Additionally, Cosmo’s headline writing is impeccable.)

Just like in Cosmo, quizzes and checklists are very popular. If you can create a quiz (even something like “Quiz: Is Your Company Effectively Managing Its Paid Search Spend?” or “25 Questions to Ask Your Wedding Photographer Before You Sign a Contract”) that will provide some value to your customers, it can be the sort of link-bait content that both builds links and trust with people once they arrive on the site. Checklists are great too – like this 25-point Web Usability Checklist.

There are also some strategic concerns around linkbait – such as drafting off a current trend (like this post), being interesting, and having valuable, relevant, well-conveyed information for your target audience. I also suggest having a call to action. If you have a website in a more difficult niche – like poker – the tactics are somewhat different. I’ll cover all of these in a future post, so make sure you subscribe to Grattisfaction. (See what I did there?)…

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How Zynga Uses Ghetto Testing and Minimum Viable Products

Zynga is a social gaming giant. Farmville,their largest game, has more than 69 million monthly active users, making it larger than Twitter. Unlike many companies, Zynga also monetizes these users effectively with virtual goods and advertising. Zynga makes a huge amount of real money – while the company is private, 2009 revenues are projected to be around $100 million.

Today I listened to a podcast of a talk from Mark Pincus, CEO/Founder of Zynga and Bing Gordon of KPCB. In this podcast, Mark shared some of Zynga’s methods of creating phenomenally successful social games. As with almost all successful start-ups, Mark uses an appropriate version of customer development and rapid iteration.

Mark talked about how they assess demand for new products and features without taking up engineering hours. All of his methods are pure customer development/agile start-up.

How Zynga Assesses Market Demand

– Create a 5-word pitch for a new product or feature

– Put it up on a high traffic webpage

– If it gets clicks, collect the emails of interested customers

– Build a ‘ghetto’ version of the feature

– Test everything

– Iterate constantly

Mark Pincus on Ghetto Testing and Minimum Viable Products

(Words are by Mark Pincus, transcribed and slightly paraphrased for clarity and grammar. Emphases are my own.)

Mark Pincus: We do something at Zynga that I call “ghetto testing.” I like to take someone who has a gigantic idea, usually a game designer, and they have some gigantic idea that this would just be great… Maybe they really want a hospital simulation game…

We want to ghetto test it. Again, we have so many bullets(engineering hours) we can fire, and we’ve got to just treasure and honor our engineers. If we do our job right, they don’t get burned out. They have a great life and we have successful products, so that’s what we want.

So I say to the marketing person or the product manager, “Describe it in five words. It’s built. If six months from now we built every dream you have, how are you going to market it? Give me the five words.”

We’ll put that up. We’ll put up a link for five minutes saying, ” Hey! Do you ever fantasize about running your own hospital?” (laughter) And, well, maybe you have! In this economy, it’s the only growth area.

We’ll put that up for five minutes, and the link will maybe take you to a survey, where you give us your email and we say when this comes out we’ll contact you. If you’re really doing ghetto, it says ’404 not found’. That’s bad.

So first you try to get the heat around it, you see how much do people like it, then…

(Brief discussion of usage metrics… they’re huge!)

Once we get to the point of actually building a game, or building a new feature, which we love Bing [Gordon’s] idea of golden mechanics. You should take away and steal it from us, the idea of not a game, but a feature that you can deconstruct and see that this interactive feature – a way to do a gift will drive virality or retention or revenues. So we put it in a feature we can build in a week – it’s a ghetto build we AB test it, we flow test it, we put it out to one percent.

We built a data warehouse with a testing platform so we’re running several hundred tests at any given time for every one of our games. And no single user has more than one test.

So, we love tests. When we see that it moves our metrics in a considerable way, that’s when we take it to be a full feature roll-out, and then we do the whole 2.0.

So, one example, we just turned on flowers in Farmville. So now you can plant and grow beautiful flowers. There’s so many places you could take flowers. The holiday season is coming up – what happens if we let you level up your flowers and create your own custom bouquets?

But we don’t want to go down those paths until we test them with our users.

What’s amazing, and this is a feature that you will all have available as you enter this third internet era, is that you’re going to run a service, and you’re going to test things every week with your users, something that I never had available to me at previous companies.

It won’t be ‘build it for three months and hope and pray.’…

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